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Animal tax deferred again

Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Nov 18, 2013 at 10:51 PM

The Wilson County Commission again deferred voting on the domestic animal tax Monday.

At its last meeting in October, the Wilson County Commission deferred voting on the domestic animal tax resolutions to first hold a public forum Nov. 5 to get more public input.

At Monday’s meeting, two resolutions were on the agenda, one to cease collection of the $2 domestic animal tax that goes to New Leash on Life and another that would levy a $5 domestic animal fee due when pet owners obtain vaccinations for their animals. Of that fee, 5 percent would go to the county clerk’s office for processing costs and the remainder would go to an operating fund for the county’s animal control department.

The $2 domestic animal tax was implemented in 1980 and is a major source of revenue for the locally based organization, New Leash on Life.

The 1980 referendum passed was for the organization’s use in “animal control,” but at the time the county didn’t operate an animal control department.

The county’s animal control department began in 2003.

Commissioner Kenny Reich said he thinks both the animal control department and New Leash on Life do great jobs, but he thought this issue was one for the general fund and wasn’t in favor of a special tax.

“I wish animal control had come in August when we were doing the budget, but they do need more money,” Reich said.

Reich then proposed to leave the $2 tax in place and take money out of the general fund to help animal control with their funding until the next budget cycle, when the department can return at budget time to ask for more money.

Commissioner Mike Justice said he didn’t think the tax was fair for responsible pet owners, who will be the ones paying the tax, and he also believed this was a general fund issue.

Justice said he thought commission should vote to take this back to the Budget Committee and let them decide on money to be appropriated for animal control, which needs money to fund another employee.

“Not having a figure and allowing them $5 to put into a surplus fund is not the way to go,” Justice said.

“Part of the reason for this at this point in time is because there are people in Wilson County that disagree that the tax money is going to one program,” said Commissioner Wendell Marlowe. “Years ago they were the only one in town, now things have changed quite a bit. Our belief is that any funds from residents of Wilson County shouldn’t go to one specific program.”

Marlowe said he agreed New Leash on Life had done a great job, but questioned why all of the money solely went to them.

“We, as commissioners, need to have an improved level of accountability of our funds that come in for this,” Marlowe said. “We needs checks and balances on how funds are utilized, and that needs to be determined by the County Commission on how funds are used, not a small group of people deciding.”

Justice said he didn’t believe it was the commission’s place to take the people’s tax dollars and give to anyone.

“Why are we talking about taxing again? There’s money in the general fund to do this,” Justice said.

Marlowe said he didn’t disagree with giving tax dollars away, but they were “in the business of doing that already.”

Marlowe said if commission wasn’t going to pass the resolutions, it should be made so other organizations in Wilson County could have the same access to tax dollars collected for animal control.

After much back-and-forth discussion, commission voted to defer the resolution to levy the proposed $5 domestic animal tax and send it back to the animal control and budget committees to look at and come up with figures to hire someone for the animal control department. The motion passed 22-3.

A motion to defer ceasing the collection of the domestic animal tax passed 18-7.

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